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New chip device speeds up disk drives

Marvell Semiconductor shows off samples of a chip system that allows data to be transferred at double the rate of the current Serial ATA interface.

Marvell Semiconductor has produced samples of a chip device that allows data to be transferred at double the rate of the current Serial ATA interface--a communication standard for fast-talking disk drives.

The sample chip product is being tested by Fujitsu for use in its 2.5-inch hard disk drives, Marvell said Wednesday. Dubbed the 88i6535 Serial ATA system on a chip, the device ups the data rate to 3 gigabits per second and handles tasks such as managing the disk drive interface and converting analog signals to digital data. The new chip is suited for devices such as blade server computers, laptop computers, portable music players, personal video recorders and car-navigation systems.

Marvell said its new chip device supports other features of the next generation of the Serial ATA interface, known as Serial ATA II. One of those features, "Native Command Queuing," allows a disk drive to order read and write tasks in an optimal fashion.

Serial ATA, or SATA, is a relatively new technology for linking disk drives and computers and promises to reduce the amount of cabling in machines compared with older ATA interfaces. The ATA interface traditionally was used to plug disk drives into desktop computers. But with advanced features, SATA is becoming a competitor to SCSI (Small Computer System Interface), which prevails in servers today. SCSI backers, meanwhile, are working on a major overhaul as well, called Serial Attached SCSI (SAS).

An industry group is still working on the SATA II technology for 3gbps data transfers and expects to publish a specification by the end of the year. Coming out with a 3gbps product in advance of the final specification runs the risk of compatibility problems later on, said Justin Heindel, product marketing manager at Marvell. But, he said, the new Marvell chip device should have enough programmability to be able to adapt to any changes in the specification.

What's more, the sample products should give momentum to the new technology, he suggested. "In order to have validation of a new interface it's important to lead the market and have products out there early," he said.